Homepage sliders/carousels have been a mainstay of web design for awhile, with no real end in site. In the background, however, there has been a bit of talk among web designers and developers concerning just how useful they are. Especially as a main feature ‘above the fold’ on a website homepage.

This simmering debate has begun to warm up recently with a growing sample of independent usability studies. See this study by the usability expert, Jakob Nielsen.

As a web designer, this kind of stuff can keep you up at night. It goes directly to the effectiveness of the services we provide. If a slider is going to hurt our clients conversion rate and otherwise work against their goals, then I needed to reconsider using them.

So, it was time to do a bit of research.

Getting Your Message Across

While we could fill a whole other blog post about the Do’s and Don’t’s of Homepage design. And do a long list of best practices. It is important to our discussion to think of your website’s homepage as your brand’s virtual receptionist. The homepage serves as the first impression for an unfamiliar visitor and, in many cases, it receives the most traffic out of any of your pages.

Your home page should serve to interest visitors, educate them on your brand and encourage them to visit other pages on your website.

The Argument AGAINST Homepage Sliders

So just how effective are slider/carousels? Erik Runyon, Technical Director and a web developer for Marketing Communications at the University of Notre Dame, decided to find out. His study, (see his full study here) conducted in 2013, showed that only 1% of visitors click on a feature. And of those, only 4% click on features in the 2nd to 4thpositions.

The argument is that if you haven’t grabbed your visitor’s attention with the first slide, then how is adding 2 or three more going to help? The visitor has either scrolled down the page to get more information or left your website altogether.

Tim Bowen, President & Founder of ‘Web Site Optimizers’, has compiled a nice piece with additional studies along with his thoughts.

These studies seem to make it clear that the only good slider is the kind you get between two buns. Citing ‘Banner Blindness’, dilution of your marketing message and hurting your SEO.

The Argument FOR Homepage Sliders

Home page carousels are used because they give a chance to feature multiple offers at the same time. Allowing you to use the same real estate for more then just one item.   They can be attention grabbers, with element movement, and they can reduce clutter on your Home page.

Brenda Barron at ‘wpmudev’ gives a sound argument for using them.

Those who support the use of Home page sliders point to other studies that show users actually do interact with them.

The folks at Mobify, an online customer engagement platform, conducted their own study with interesting results.

Mathieu Clauss leverages a classic, elegant image slider that takes up the whole browser screen and adapts to its dimension.

Our Conclusion

Like most debates, both sides have a point. And really, it doesn’t have to be one way or the other.

It all comes down to your audience, the message you want to get across and the best way to achieve it.

All studies make it clear that interactions with a home page slider do decline with the number of features. However, in proper context, they are effective. As in the Notre Dame study, a carousel probably isn’t a great idea for a University website. But for an eCommerce website, it can be effective and useful.

It is through proper design, image and message that will decide if your homepage slider is engaging to your visitors.

We recommend that:

  1. LIMIT YOUR SLIDES. Try and limit your slides to 3 or under. If you can get you message across with only two, all the better!
  1. CHANGE CONTENT REGULARLY. If you are going to use multiple slides its important to change this content out rather regularly. If you have the same #1 slide and use the remaining ones for special items only then users will not necessarily see them. If you have a special event or promotion, Make it #1…then take it down when its completed.
  1. KEEP THE MESSAGE CLEAR AND TO THE POINT. Humans are visual creatures, so engaging imagery is important, but so is the text or message you lay on top. Be pithy and to the point. The quicker a visitor registers the message of the slide the better.

Alternatives

Okay, so its been decided you don’t want a slider. What can be done? Here are a few alternatives that we like to use.

  1. A ‘HERO IMAGE’. This is basically a single image with a single message. Maybe even a button that leads to a lead generation item or special promotion. The idea is that you are using this space as a cover, like a book cover to the story of who you are as a company. It is a great way of setting a tone for the overall brand message while allowing visitors the freedom to get on with looking through your website.
  1. A ‘VIDEO’ This has become a trend the last few years, It can often be out of reach for some clients and video footage, even stock footage, can be expensive to produce.   The one downfall of a video slider is that it doesn’t play well with mobile. You will still need to create a static hero image to back it up for mobile application.